Another 3D-Printed Moon Base Concept Uses Sintered Regolith Bricks

First Posted: Mar 22, 2013 06:08 PM EDT

A team of space architects presented their concept for a 3D-printed Moon base called SinterHab near the Lunar South Pole in March, after Foster and Partners together with ESA announced that they had conducted first tests for another design and concept in January this year. The concept would use a microwave sintering technique to bake bricks and other elements from the lunar dust, called regolith, by utilizing a large NASA spider robot.

This method would have the advantage to not need much other material for building structures on the moon, compared to the Foster and ESA concept that tested a mobile printing array of nozzles to spray a binding solution on the regolith dust to shape it. Microwave sintering would create a more solid and dense building material quite similar to ceramics, but instead of a solution require significant amounts of energy to accomplish this.

This is possible on the moon because space weathering enriches the lunar regolith dust with iron nanoparticles, which in in turn make it possible to heat the dust up to 1200-1500 degrees C and melt it with microwaves. Heating and maintaining the temperature just below the melting point, the common process of sintering used to manufacture ceramics and more recently also used in additive manufacturing (3D printing) to make complex high-tech products like medical implants, bonds the small particles together. By using a computer controlled 3D-printing head on a lunar rover, building blocks for a lunar habitat can be created in this way.

3D printing technology with the use of in-situ resources would then enable the construction of a Lunar south Pole outpost equipped with a bio-regenerative life support system. The module would combine deployable membrane structures and pre-integrated rigid elements with a sintered regolith shell for enhanced radiation and micrometeorite shielding. The closed loop ecological system would support a sustainable presence on the Moon with particular focus on research activities. The core module accommodates from four to eight people, and provides laboratories as a test bed for development of new lunar technologies directly in the environment where they will be used.

The life-support system is designed to be mainly bio-regenerative and several parts of the system are intrinsically multifunctional and serve more than one purpose, the researchers write. The plants for food production would be also an efficient part of atmosphere revitalization and water treatment. Moreover, the plants could be used as a "winter garden" for psychological and recreational purposes. The water in the revitalization system would also have a multifunctional use as radiation shielding in the safe-haven habitat core.

Project SinterHab was initiated in 2009 at International Space University by space architects Tomas Rousek, Katarina Eriksson and Dr. Ondrej Doule in collaboration with Richard Rieber from NASA JPL.

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